CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

December 8, 2012

New Good Hope facade program to regulate appearance of business zone

By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times

GOOD HOPE — With a planned new interstate exit and the recent approval of alcohol sales, Good Hope is thinking about long-term growth.

But beyond the tax dollars that new travel centers, restaurants and stores can bring, the mayor and city council hope that growth ends up looking good to the eye as well.

The city council approved an ordinance last month that raises the aesthetic standards of what a new building in Good Hope’s business zone can look like, and requires owners of current businesses, when called for, to incorporate exterior upgrades to future building expansions.

The new facade ordinance will effectively end construction of corrugated metal or vinyl buildings along the stretch of business-zoned Ala. Highway 69, instead favoring brick and stone, along with proportionate measures of glass, glass block and wood siding.

Good Hope’s business zone along the Highway 69 corridor stretches from the Cullman city limit on the city’s north end all the way past the Good Hope city hall south of Interstate 65 exit 304. The ordinance isn’t aimed at residential areas, and no homeowners in Good Hope are affected by the new rules.

The City of Cullman opportunely instituted a similar facade program in the 2011 aftermath of a tornado that damaged or destroyed a number of historic downtown structures. Good Hope mayor Corey Harbison said his city’s business district may lack the historic quality that Cullman’s facade ordinance preserves in greater detail, but Cullman’s smaller neighbor to the south still has plenty to gain by requiring businesses to care about the face their storefronts present to the public.

“When I’m going out and trying to recruit a restaurant or a business to come and locate in good Hope, it’s hard for me to get someone to come in and commit to building a $1.5 million structure without them wanting some assurances from the city that their investment is going to be secure; that the look of the community around that building is going to support the idea that this is a nice place where people want to be,” he said.

“Some of what we’re doing is going to take years. It’s going to take years to get the 304 exit [the Highway 69 exit] where it needs to be, but hopefully, within the next two or three years, the [County Road] 222 exit at 305 is going to become a reality and not just a dream. That’s going to be a clean slate for new buildings, where everything can look nice from the very beginning. It’s exciting to think about where that could take us, if we work hard to manage it the right way.”

The program also recognizes that the majority of retail development in Good Hope is likely to require the use — or re-use — of existing buildings. To that end, there are requirements that encourage new construction to blend in with the aesthetics (where there are any) of older structures.

Cabin Fever beverages, which looked to Good Hope to locate its second package store in the Cullman area, is the first business tasked with following the city’s new facade guidelines. The store will be locating in a long-dormant Texaco service station on the west side of Highway 69. But, under the facade program, customers will have a hard time seeing anything about the new exterior that suggests its past a quick-and-easy pit stop.

“I think it’s great,” said Cabin Fever co-owner Kolby Lawrence, busy with a paint roller outside the store last week. “The mayor and the city have been great to work with, and we’re just glad to able to be the first.”

Like Cullman, Good Hope is offering a matching grant program to help owners of existing businesses retrofit their buildings. The ordinance doesn’t force them to make any upgrades in their appearance — so long as they have no plans to expand. But it does require business owners to implement the new guidelines if they do decide to grow.

Ask a little; give a little. The city has pledged to front a portion of the cost whenever a business is required to pay for a nicer storefront.

“The city council developed the grant program because, with the existing structures that are grandfathered in under the ordinance, some owners may want to do improvements but the may not quite have the money they need,” Harbison explained. “We put the money out there so they could have an incentive to go ahead and come into compliance.

Under the grant program, the city will pay $1,500 per side for facade upgrades to a building, or 50 percent of the total cast — whichever is less. “If someone were doing a $2,000 project, for example,” said Harbison, “we would, of course, give $1,000 instead of the $1,500.”

Funding for the grant program will eventually come out of an account established from taxes on hard liquor sales in the city. “It has to come from the general fund this year, but hopefully the plan will be to pull it out of the alcohol tax fund in the future,” Harbison said.



Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.